Listen up executive assistants and office professionals – in almost every aspect of your job, whether taking minutes, planning events, training staff or acting as your boss’s gatekeeper, listening skills are one of your most valuable assets.
Many professionals forget about this crucial element of effective communication. But here are seven tips for mastering the art of listening:
1 Let other people speak. It may sound obvious, but the first step in becoming a better listener is to simply close your mouth. Don’t interrupt or talk over other people, even if what you have to say seems more important. Let them finish their statements, which will allow you to respond thoughtfully to all the points they’ve made.
2 Stay in the present. Often when we believe we’re listening, we’re actually busy composing an intelligent response. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” When you’re focused on making a brilliant comment, it’s easy to miss much of what’s being said. And your colleagues and boss can sense that you’re not entirely present. So stay focused on whoever is speaking, and give that person your complete attention.
3 Say no to distractions. During a conversation, don’t answer the phone, respond to a text or start talking to another person. Nothing says “I’m not interested in what you have to say” like changing your focus. If a third party wants your attention, let that person know you’ll respond soon. Then go back to your conversation. This approach not only improves your listening skills, it also shows respect for the person who is speaking.
The same principles apply in meetings, where almost everyone has been guilty of surreptitiously checking messages, now and then. But a recent Robert Half survey found that managers frown on this habit. Which adds one more good reason to improve your ability to really listen.
4 Observe body language. People communicate with more than their words. So “listening” includes paying attention to hand gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice — because they all help you understand someone’s real message. For instance, if a coworker says “fine,” while smiling and meeting your gaze, then he probably means what he said and agrees with your request. But what if his words are clipped, his jaw is tight and he looks away while speaking? Then he’s probably not “fine” at all.
5 Mind your own nonverbal communication. What unintended messages are you sending? Part of being a good listener is making clear that you’re receptive. So indicate you’re tuned in by uncrossing your arms, facing the speaker, leaning forward a little, nodding in agreement and occasionally using affirming words. You also need to maintain positive eye contact. But don’t stare, which can seem threatening.
6 Keep an open mind. Try to see any situation from different points of view. When you make up your mind in advance, you’re closing the door to mutual understanding. Even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, you owe it to whoever is speaking to listen before deciding.
7 Be inquisitive. Askinggood questions shows you’ve been paying attention and care about what is being said. Your question can be as simple as, “Is there anything else I should know?” But if you’re unclear on the main points, then good follow-up questions are essential. For example, paraphrase what you think was said, and ask the speaker whether you’ve understood correctly.
Fine-tuning your listening skills will make you a better coworker, supervisor and employee. It’s also one of the leadership qualities that will help you get ahead. So pay attention, listen up and make becoming a good listener one of your career goals.